The life and career of Barbara Hepworth, the modern master of abstract sculpture

The life and career of Barbara Hepworth, the modern master of abstract sculpture


Photo: National Portrait Gallery

British artist Barbara Hepworth is a world-famous sculptor known for her abstract, lyrical works. She was fascinated by shape and texture at a young age and decided to become an artist at the age of 15. Hepworth’s passion is reflected in her enormous sculptural heritage; Over 50 years of her career, she has produced about 600 handcrafted sculptures from wood, marble, bronze, etc.

For Hepworth, sculpture can be a mirror of life. She once observed: “Sculpture is a hologram of the original emotion. Touch, texture, size and proportion, hardness and warmth, arousing and forced to move, live and love. “.

Read on to discover more about the life and career of the sculptor Hepworth:


Photo: Phillips

Hepworth childhood and education

Born January 10, 1903 in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, Hepworth is the eldest of Mrs. Gertrude and Mr. Herbert Hepworth. Her father was a construction engineer, and she traveled frequently with him throughout the English countryside. These experiences – along with spending a summer vacation at Robin Hood Bay in Yorkshire – helped shape Hepworth’s love for nature, which later influenced her work.

After graduating from high school, Hepworth developed an interest in Egyptian sculpture and won a scholarship to Leeds Art School in 1920. While studying there, she met a student and home. sculptures Henry Moore. They have become longtime friends and influence each other’s work for the rest of their careers. Both attended the Royal College of Arts London in 1921. Hepworth graduated in 1923 but stayed for another year to compete for the Prix de Rome, a French scholarship for art students to study in Rome. . Unfortunately, she was lost by the sculptor John Skeaping, who later became her husband.


Photo: The London Magazine

Early stage career

Hepworth married Skeaping in May 1925. The couple moved to Rome where Hepworth first learned stone carving under the guidance of the sculptor Giovanni Ardini.

November 1926, the newlyweds returned to London. During this time, Hepworth began working and exhibiting sculptures in her own studio, where she directly produced chisel and hammer stone sculptures. The “direct engraving” technique allows Hepworth raw materials to retain their organic quality and intentionally allows the viewer to see the artist’s hand or “signature”.



Hepworth gave birth to her first child, Paul Skeaping, on August 3, 1929. Many of her early works take the form of a newborn baby, or mother-child. These figures remain an important motif in Hepworth’s work but have since been abstracted. Nature is also a prominent theme in her work, especially the sea and the waves.




In 1931, Hepworth split from Skeaping. That same year, she met the abstract painter Ben Nicholson, and the two fell in love. They then married in 1938. Hepworth and Nicholson lived in Hampstead, north London, near Henry Moore – the famous British sculptor of the 20th century and several other great artists of the time. The art historian of a friend of Hepworth, Herbert Read, described the area as “a home of gentle artists”.

During this time, Nicholson and Hepworth shared a studio and cooperated regularly. Hepworth said of their relationship, “as painter and sculptor, at the same time as each other’s best critic.” Hepworth was influenced by the abstract shapes in Nicholson’s paintings, so her work also became more abstract.



In 1932, Hepworth for the first time “pierced” a sculpture. The piece, called Pierced Form, is made from pink plaster and has a smooth, rippled surface. The hole in the middle allows the viewer to see through. Pierced Form was destroyed during World War II, but Hepworth continued to create sculptures with similar slits. However, Hepworth does not see holes as gaps, but as the relationship between form and space. In a number of works, she emphasized and identified sculptural gaps by stretching strings through their holes, creating pieces that resemble string instruments.

In 1934, Hepworth gave birth to three: Simon, Rachel and Sarah Hepworth-Nicholson. Hepworth recalls, “It was an extremely interesting event. We were just preparing one child and the arrival of three children at six in the morning made us improvise for the first few days.”

Between 1933 and 1934, Hepworth and Nicholson joined the Paris-based exhibition group called Abstract – Creation. They connected with the iconic abstract artists of the time, including Pablo Picasso, Wassily Kandinsky, Joan Miró and Piet Mondrian. Hepworth began exhibiting alongside these abstract artists both in the UK and in Paris. In 1936, the Museum of Modern Art bought her first Hepworth sculpture.


Photo: Christie’s

When World War II broke out in 1939, Hepworth and her family moved to St Ives Street in Cornwall, England. They stayed there until the war ended inside a small house. Cramped conditions meant Hepworth had no space to sculpt, so she switched to drawing. Hepworth created a series of works, titled Hospital Painting (1947–1949), which featured men and women performing surgical procedures.

In 1949, Hepworth bought a house and studio on St Ives Street and lived there for the rest of her life.

The last years of life

The marriage of Hepworth and Nicholson ended in 1951, and tragically, her first son died in a plane crash in 1953. While facing the pain, Hepworth continued to sculpt. But she is also battling her own health problems. She was diagnosed with tongue cancer and had a motor problem, but that hasn’t stopped her from continuing to create her art. In 1956, she began carving on bronze and other metals because they allowed her to create miniature sculptures.

Sir Alan Bowness, son-in-law of Hepworth, and an art historian, wrote: “My mother-in-law, the sculptor Hepworth has a small and fierce appearance, a very discreet personality. I am always amazed at the testimony. The idea is that a woman with such a small appearance can take on a health-demanding job with great flexibility and integrity. “

In 1975, Hepworth fell asleep while smoking at her studio in St Ives. The building burned down, and Hepworth was dead inside. Her obituary in The Guardian hailed her as “the most important female artist in art history to this day.”

Here are some of the spectacular sculptures by sculptor Hepworth:


Photo: AnOther Magazine


Photo: Muddy Stilettos Bucks and Oxon


Photo: Financial Times


Photo: Financial Times


Photo: Londonist


Photo: St Albans Museums

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